The days of legacy Unix are almost over as companies move towards the cloud. Enterprise IT infrastructure built on the need for interoperability resulted in vendor lock-in; cloud technology promises to provide a solution to this problem. Freedom of choice, even on a daily basis, should be the cornerstone of any planned migration towards a cloud environment. In addition to choice comes the requirement for standards, both in terms of technology, e.g. APIs, communication etc, and in process, in terms of the ways systems are built, deployed and managed.
Linux and open source software has changed the way we think about IT infrastructure completely and it has been very successful in changing the way operational IT is run. The move to open source technologies, and the process that built them, provides a model for cloud adoption. Back in 1996, before there was an enterprise ready distribution of Linux, IT managers turned to Linux on SunOS and Solaris, as it was easier to manage and deploy and was every bit as effective. However, adopting Linux in the early days was met with some resistance, particularly from the risk averse who believed that the adage ‘no one ever got fired for buying IBM’ (News - Alert) extended to other premium-priced IT products.
Persuading certain people that Linux and open source software was best for web services took some time. The premium IT solutions brought only marginal gain. In addition to this, the people who kept the kit running were in high demand – and with high demand came high salary demands. The 1990s were a boom time for IT workers and Solaris admins were expensive. Linux experts less so. Market forces in addition to packaged scalable solutions helped push open source into the mainstream.
Many early adopters of Linux in the enterprise are the same people who moved to open source and commodity hardware data centers between 2002 to 2007. Those businesses have reaped significant savings and performance benefits. These organizations could be seen as enterprise open source pioneers that designed and migrated to a new environment, and understood how to take what had been primarily community driven till then, into the very commercial world. They paid a higher price for adoption, both in terms of acquiring skills and leading the way on process and policies, as well as the raw technology. However, the benefits made it worthwhile.
One of the more implicit benefits of open source beyond more affordable hardware, and lower license/subscription costs, was standardization. As estates of enterprise Linux got bigger, the need for effective means of management became clear. Open source systems management tools now predominate in the enterprise, and a Linux environment provides significant management advantages over legacy Unix or Windows environments. This forms what we now know as a Standard Operating Environment (SOE) and is a fundamental part of any current datacenter strategy. An SOE helps in managing and containing the complexities that inevitably arise when configuration variance has spread across the IT and one-off configurations and silo systems have multiplied. As numbers of platforms begin to grow, it is worth the time and effort to review existing systems and plan a migration to a standard operating environment. Indeed, without the standardization of platforms and process, it’s impossible to add further functions that make up a fully operational cloud deployment.
With a multifaceted migration, involving operating system, virtual environment and applications, organizations need to retain authority of their new SOE and they can ensure this by designing it before moving existing infrastructure across. As a concept, an SOE is a collection of loosely coupled but functional tools and processes that manages an IT infrastructure. With the appropriate SOE in place a business can be cloud ready securely and in the knowledge that decisions made now will not prevent future technology adoption.
Linux is rapidly becoming part of the establishments as evidenced by traditionally conservative organizations in verticals such as consumer banking, insurance or retail, adopting the technology. Some exorbitant renewals for older hardware and software solutions are pushing organizations away from Unix and as more firms migrate away from Unix the software suppliers selling it are seeking to maintain their profitability by raising the price for those firms unfortunate enough to be locked-in. The return-on-investment to migrate to Linux makes a lot of sense. Migration provides organizations with the opportunity to update their system management, and to consider that in terms of a future highly agile datacenter.
Adapting and adopting new technologies ahead of rivals can provide a fantastic competitive advantage. However, it is not without risk and those firms migrating to emerging technologies later often benefit from a number of advantages. There are tried and tested best practice routes for adoption. Furthermore a greater number of technically skilled open source businesses and people exist. All of this helps improve service levels and push down prices.
In many respects, the new technology has become commoditized and the standard offerings for open hybrid cloud computing are now here; OpenStack and OpenShift are just two technologies that ensure the process of adopting standards, rather than more expensive custom built solutions. A cloud solution off-the-shelf and running is going to be a lot more difficult than open source component-based projects like OpenStack: data gets locked into proprietary databases, and as a result companies get locked-in to a single vendor. The vendor owns the roadmap, not the business, and the vendor controls the fees.
The parallels between enterprise Linux adoption of 15 years ago and virtualization and cloud computing today are clear. Businesses should adopt what will become the standard and what is heading towards commodity. Choice of supplier (if you want one), standards adoption and community led strategy are all key indicators. By working with a trusted vendor that can support and provide consulting on OpenStack, the required open source components can be brought together.
A final consideration should also be made regarding the importance of retaining architectural ownership of the project; piloting your own ship, even if the crew is comprised of hired hands, makes a lot of sense. Surrendering ownership can seem sensible and it is sometimes the easier option, but it will take you in a direction where one small decision now may preclude a successful cloud strategy in the future. One thing should now be clear to most large enterprises, legacy Unix has no future and it should have no place in any vendors’ cloud strategy.